Thursday 22 May 2014

Archbishop Smith/CBCEW defends homosexual civil partnerships, despite Catholic teaching to the contrary

Archbishop Peter Smith
Archbishop Peter Smith, in a statement on behalf of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW), has defended homosexual civil partnerships. In a response to the government's review of civil partnerships following legal approval of same-sex marriages, Archbishop Smith/CBCEW say (inter alia):
  • "Some lesbian and gay Catholics do not wish to enter into civil same sex marriage because of their deeply held belief that marriage is between a man and a woman only, but still wish to have the legal rights that are contained in a civil partnership. The removal of the option for same sex couples to enter into civil partnerships could cause great harm to those Catholics and others."
  • "In terms of the Equality Act framework, it is important that those who share the protected characteristics of sexuality and religion continue to be able to manifest their religious beliefs whilst not being denied the legal protections that are offered by a civil partnership."
  • "We are opposed to any automatic conversion of civil partnerships into same sex marriages. The two realities were established differently in law with distinct meanings. Same sex couples who entered into civil partnerships may not wish to have their relationship labelled in this way."
  •  "[T]he continued legal right of lesbian and gay couples to enter into civil partnerships is important to them. Preventing new civil partnerships from being entered would deny them those rights and provide little or no benefit elsewhere."
My comments:

In the above response, Archbishop Smith/CBCEW defends homosexual civil partnerships despite Catholic teaching to the contrary. In 2003, Pope John Paul II* approved a document by the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, entitled "Considerations regarding proposals to give legal recognition to unions between homosexual persons", signed by Cardinal Ratzinger and published on the feast-day of the Ugandan martyrs, who died rather than submit to homosexual acts. Here are some relevant extracts from that document, marked "CDF" and with my emphases in bold, followed by my comments:
CDF: "In those situations where homosexual unions have been legally recognized or have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage, clear and emphatic opposition is a duty." (no.5)
As civil partnerships in English law are legally exclusive to same-sex couples and in practice are used only by homosexual couples, they therefore fall squarely under the document's condemnation of homosexual unions. By the use of the word "or", the CDF made clear that the Catholic Church condemns civil partnerships between homosexuals per se and not only "[i]n those situations where homosexual unions...have been given the legal status and rights belonging to marriage." (And in any case, civil partnerships in English law have already been given many of the "rights belonging to marriage" in English law, so they are doubly condemned.) Archbishop Smith/CBCEW has not only failed in their "duty" to manifest "clear and emphatic opposition" to homosexual civil partnerships, they have endorsed and defended them.
CDF: "The homosexual inclination is...'objectively disordered' and homosexual practices are 'sins gravely contrary to chastity'." (no.4)
There is no mention in the Archbishop Smith/CBCEW response to homosexuality as a disorder nor to the wrongness of homosexual acts. This omission is squarely contrary to the next paragraph of the CDF's document which says:
"Moral conscience requires that, in every occasion, Christians give witness to the whole moral truth, [for example] stating clearly the immoral nature of [homosexual] unions..." (no.5)
The Archbishop Smith/CBCEW response refers to:
“lesbian and gay Catholics who have entered into civil partnerships in order to secure important and necessary legal rights”.
Yet the CDF explicitly rejected that argument:
CDF: "Nor is the argument valid according to which legal recognition of homosexual unions is necessary to avoid situations in which cohabiting homosexual persons, simply because they live together, might be deprived of real recognition of their rights as persons and citizens." (no.9)
The final paragraph of the CDF's document said:
"Legal recognition of homosexual unions or placing them on the same level as marriage would mean...the approval of deviant behaviour..." (no.11)
Again, by the use of the word "or", the CDF made clear that the Catholic Church condemns civil partnerships between homosexuals per se and not only where such unions are "plac[ed] on the same level as marriage." One of the bases of this condemnation is "the approval of deviant behaviour", about which Archbishop Smith/CBCEW is silent.

When the Civil Partnerships Bill was passed in 2004, Archbishop Smith, again on behalf of the CBCEW, said the opposite of this latest CBCEW response, arguing that:
"The government has effectively established same-sex marriage in all but name"
and warning of the damage that would cause.

Background: Legal nature of civil partnerships

Jacqueline Humphreys, an Anglican barrister, has said:
"[T]here can be no ambiguity that [UK civil partnerships] are intended to be sexual ... [T]he fact that some people do not engage in genital sexual activity within their marriage does not prevent marriage from being the legal regulation of an essentially sexual relationship. The same applies to civil partnerships ... [C]ivil partnerships are in all important respects the same as marriage in terms of practical legal effect. Civil partnerships also share the overwhelming majority of the conceptual understandings of marriage that exist within English law"
Ms Humphreys has explained in detail how the Civil Partnerships Act has numerous aspects which mirror UK marriage law. There are so many of these aspects, so I won't list them all here, but here are some of the main ones [my emphases in bold]:
  • "Like marriage, a civil partnership ends only on death, dissolution or annulment"
  • "[C]ivil partners are to be treated by law in the same way as married couples in respect to property disputes" etc.
  • "Civil partnerships are also designed to be monogamous ...  This mutual exclusivity of marriage and civil partnership has the effect of putting civil partnerships firmly in a position equivalent to marriage."
  • "[T]he range of persons within prohibited degrees of relationship with whom it is not possible to enter a civil the equivalent to that for marriage ... If civil partnerships are not assumed to be sexual, there can be no reason to restrict close family members from entering them. But because they are presumed to be sexual, it would not be appropriate for the law to legitimise 'incestuous' relationships."
  • "[T]he term 'in-law' where it appears in legislation also includes relationship by reason of civil partnership in addition to relationship by marriage and that `step-parent' and 'step­child' relationships are also recognised for civil partners as they would be for spouses."
  • "A civil partnership is voidable on the ground that at the time of its formation the respondent was pregnant by some person other than the applicant."
  • "[M]any of the details of the 2004 Act anticipate that children will be a feature of the family life of some civil partnerships"
  • [T]he Act recognises same-sex marriages in other countries as civil partnerships.
Ms Humphreys explained that it is for technical legal reasons that adultery is absent as a ground for dissolution, and not because civil partnerships are not intended to be sexual.

Civil partnerships are in practice celebrated like civil marriages:
  • conducted at registry offices, witnessed and registered by the same government officials who witness and register marriages
  • celebrated with much of the traditional panoply of weddings (rings, kisses, formal attire, receptions etc)
  • referred to in common parlance as "weddings" and the partners referred to as "husbands" or "wives".
* Pope John Paul II, the great pro-life champion, taught (Evangelium Vitae, 1995, para.97) it is an illusion to think that we can build a true culture of human life if we do not offer adolescents and young adults an authentic education in sexuality, and in love, and the whole of life according to their true meaning and in their close interconnection. 

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